CES's Biggest Miss: Marketing That Just Doesn't Get Women

Panel of Women-Focused Marketers on What CES, and Tech Industry, Should Do Better

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Angela Steele
Angela Steele

Dear CES: you still don't get women.

The biggest of all electronic trade shows is an homage to the Y chromosome, and it shows in the marketing.

Women have long been considered the leader in household-purchase decisions, the household CFO, if you will. But tech marketers miss the boat by focusing tech specs and not the value that devices add to their lives.

"There are a lot of stereotypes that are just not true when it comes to women," said Angela Steele, CEO of mobile agency Ansible Mobile at a panel sponsored by IPG and Advertising Age at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "Women use QR codes more than men; they are quicker to adapt to new technologies, especially if it helps her get things done."

A shining counter-example is Apple, the perennial CES no-show, which makes the tech benefits the predominant message in their marketing, a pitch that resonates well with women.

"Second, they haven't made a pink phone," Ms. Steele said. "Please keep it focused on the benefits because we are very rational in our decisions. Also, please don't make it pink."

"Apple paved the way to show things don't need to be girly to be accessible," added Rachel Weiss, VP-digital strategy at L'Oreal.

Forrester analyst James McQuivey chalked it up to calcified traditions in consumer electronics marketing, and a mindset that still pervades CES, and ultimately trickles down to retailers where devices are sold. "If I could change one thing about the way CES is structured, I would shift it away from specs to benefits," he said. "It probably also means the 'booth babes' have to go."

Benefits and utility
A winning strategy for consumer-electronics manufacturers would be to focus on benefits, but also show women how technology can make their busy lives more manageable.

"Don't overwhelm women; they are already multitasking," said Kristen DiCarlo, director of marketing at Fisher-Price. "That feeling of being out of control is the thing most women are afraid of . Make the tools to help them manage, so its not so overwhelming."

Panelists anticipate women will be on the forefront of a retail revolution, driven by the convenience enabled by mobile devices. "The Amazon mobile app -- two clicks and you're done," Ms. Steele said. "That dramatically changes the way women shop. If I were a physical retailer i would be nervous about these trends."

Another powerful motivator for women are technologies that provide proven benefits for children. "If you show that this iPad app will help your child cognitively or in their coordination, it will resonate for them," Ms. DiCarlo said.

But there also devices that women won't share, even with their kids. "Our research says moms will give up their iPads to their kids, but not their phones," she said. "It's like withdrawal when they don't have them."

Click here to view a slideshow from the Women and Technology panel.
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